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It is no exaggeration to say that what happens in the next year will determine the future of our public Medicare system for decades to come.

Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, the federal government claims it is waiting for the Romanow Commission report on Medicare due in November. Meanwhile, the right-wing is forging full-steam ahead. Their goal is to force privatization of health care upon Canadians in every way possible before the federal government acts. They hope that through this strategy the federal governments options, and hence Canadians options, will be narrowed.

National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Gnreux and I met with Federal Health Minister Allen Rock in December to push the federal government to take action on recent alarming developments across the country. The Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta governments are moving full steam ahead with P3 hospitals. The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons has given approval for overnight stays in the private clinics established through Bill 11 and the green light was given for the provinces first private clinic, the Health Resource Centre, to perform surgical operations. Despite Minister Rocks earlier promises to be vigilant about the Alberta situation, it was clear he was not concerned about the increase in private delivery of health care and would not take action unless there were clear violations of the Canada Health Act.

Since that meeting our public heath care system has been under attack like never before. The Mazankowski report commissioned by Premier Klein in Alberta claims to respect the principles of the Canada Health Act. Instead it sets out a plan to reform Canadas health care system by ensuring even more public funding is funneled into private pockets. Mazankowskis report proposes Medical Savings Accounts, individual health debit cards, user fees, huge increases in health care premiums, measures to facilitate privatization and the delisting of some services covered under the Alberta plan. Klein has stated he intends to do all he can to implement the recommendations of this report.

Liberal Senator Michael Kirby who chairs a senate committee on health, then weighed in with his interim report which laid out a series of options for reform almost all of them relying on user fees and the corporate sector for solutions.
In releasing the report, Senator Kirby accused medicare supporters of being emotional, avoiding the tough questions and skirting the controversial issues.

Premier Gordon Campbell and three of his cabinet ministers may be negotiating to bring US hospital giant Humana Inc. to BC to set up a P3 hospital in Abbotsford. Kentucky-based Humana is the largest health maintenance organization (HMO) south of the border. Humana currently faces a class action lawsuit filed under US anti-racketeering laws alleging that the company systematically defrauded physicians. Last year the company was fined $1 million by the state of Georgia for improper conduct.
The Ontario government is moving forward with P3 hospitals in Ottawa and Brampton. Leadership candidates to succeed Mike Harris are trying to outdo each other with right wing programs to reform health care.

At the January Premiers conference, New Brunswick Premier Lord raised the possibility of P3 hospitals in New Brunswick.

And the new federal Health Minister Anne McLellan was very quick off the mark to express her openness to private delivery of health care.

But CUPE is fighting back.

We have been working with the Canadian Health Coalition to build the largest ever coalition for public healthcare. And we are working with the labour movement and our coalition partners to put in place the most ambitious campaign yet to defend medicare.

As part of our campaign, CUPE played an important role in the lead-up to the Premiers meeting in Vancouver in January. We worked to frustrate Ralph Kleins attempt to get support from the Premiers for privatization. I met with Manitoba Premier Doer and had discussions with Saskatchewan Premier Calvert in the two weeks leading up to the Premiers meeting. The discussions were productive and focused on strategy for blocking any agreement on the privatization of delivery of health care and how to promote progressive alternatives. Both Premiers were responsive and clearly took a leadership stance on these issues with other Premiers. (The final communiqu 0066rom the Premiers meeting did not include privatization a victory in light of the fact that the first version did!)

I also met with Roy Romanow in January and urged him to come out clearly on the side of public health care and to call the privateers to task for making false claims. I also urged Mr. Romanow to open up his consultations so that those of us who use and work in health care will have a chance to be heard.

It is crucial that the voices of CUPE members and all Canadians who support medicare be heard loud and clear in the weeks to come. I am urging all CUPE divisions, organizations and locals to apply to make a presentation to the Romanow Commission reinforcing CUPEs five-point plan to save medicare:

Stop and reverse the privatization of health care,
Increase federal funding for all health care acute care, long-term care, mental health and home and community care,
Rebuild the existing public health care system and expand it to include a national home care program and a national drug plan,
Improve access to quality health care through primary care reform,
Exempt health care from trade deals, specifically NAFTA and WTO.

(Information on these points is available through the CUPE National website). More information on participating in the Romanow Commissions proceedings can be obtained by calling my office.

In addition to making our voices heard at the Romanow hearings, CUPE and other organizations will be mobilizing massive grass-roots support for our position. We will do this through a major effort that includes door-to-door canvass and community actions from coast to coast in early May. The goal is to sign up millions of Canadians in the battle against the privatization of health care. The canvass will be organized similarly to an election canvass with thousands of volunteer canvassers taking part.

We will also be using every opportunity we can to expose the dangers of privatization, particularly the dangers of Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) and/or Private Finance Initiatives that are spreading like wild-fire in the health care sector. As part of this initiative we organized a special briefing on P3s for the Romanow Commission in which we involved leading experts. One of these experts, Dr, Allyson Pollock, came from the United Kingdom where Private Finance Initiatives have proven to be disastrous. Following the meetings with the Romanow Commission, CUPE arranged for Dr. Pollock to travel to Ontario and BC, where she took part in CUPE membership meetings and conferences and also carried out extensive media interviews. As stated earlier, our national health care campaign is very ambitious. But it has to be. The future of Medicare is at stake. We will be sending out many more details of future plans. Keep posted.